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''Lord of the Rings'' could gross $90 million

In a weekend with — count ’em — five new releases, the biggest money magic will come from Middle-earth

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Elijah Wood
Lord of the Rings: Pierre Vinet

Five new wide releases in one weekend? Yep, it’s Christmastime.

After weeks with just one or maybe two national movie debuts, the super-busy holiday season goes into full swing with the arrival of the ridiculously anticipated epic ”The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” along with four other premieres. In fact, the weekend is so crowded that Miramax delayed its Meg Ryan romantic comedy ”Kate & Leopold” from its original Dec. 21 date to Dec. 25.

Obviously, ”Lord of the Rings” will be far and away the top film. After hundreds of millions of website hits and about as many magazine covers, the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation finally hit theaters on Wednesday, bringing in an amazing $18.2 million, about the same that ”Jurassic Park III” grossed on its debut Wednesday before bringing in $50.8 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period. ”LOTR”’s strong advance buzz (it scored four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Drama, and a certain movie critic — EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum — called it the movie of the year) will propel the Hobbits past the dinosaurs. Look for ”Lord” to gross about $60 million this weekend and about $85-90 million in its first five days.

The rest of the top six will be a bit tighter. The animated flick ”Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” will bring the family audience in droves. Any pop culture-savvy 8-year-old has been talking this one up for weeks. Following on the heels of the ”Rugrats” movies, each of which earned in the mid-20 millions in their first weekends, ”Jimmy” should also serve up about $20 million for second place.

Comedians Tim Allen and Jim Carrey may battle it out for the No. 3 slot. Allen has the lighthearted comedy ”Joe Somebody,” about a wimpy white-collar worker seeking revenge on his bullying colleague, while Carrey returns with the Capra-esque feelgood drama ”The Majestic,” which was meant to be an Oscar film but has seen horrible reviews and not a single critic’s award or Golden Globe nod. Both films should debut with about $12 million.

Another word of mouth casualty is bound to be Tom Cruise’s audience-dividing ”Vanilla Sky.” Although the trippy drama certainly has its ardent fans (myself included), its CinemaScore grade of D- presages a big second-weekend drop. A decline of 55 percent would mean only $11 million, good enough for fifth place.

The week’s last new entry is the Method Man/Redman college comedy ”How High.” Only playing in 1,200 theaters, the stoner flick won’t break the top five, but should certainly outgross the movie debuts of fellow musicians Mariah Carey (”Glitter”) and ‘N Sync’s Lance and Joey (”On the Line”), which only managed about $4 million each. Rather, the rappers will gross about $7 million, leaving those other pop stars desperately planning their next albums.

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